Georgia Tech’s Hiroshi Tai overcomes late triple bogey to win NCAA Men’s Golf individual title

CARLSBAD, Calif. — The lie was impossible.

Georgia Tech sophomore Hiroshi Tai had one foot in and one foot out of the greenside bunker on the par-3 eighth. His ball caught a terrible lie. He had no shot.

He swung, caught a hozzle, shank, whatever you want call it. The ball was blasted over the green and past the TV tower. Two shots later, he was finally on the green. Two putts later, he was in the hole for a triple-bogey 6.

“I just told him, ‘dude, you just gotta go play the next hole,'” Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said.

His tee shot on the par-4 ninth found a fairway bunker, then he chunked his second. “We haven’t hit a green from a fairway bunker all week,” Heppler joked. However, Tai then stuck his pitch shot from roughly 40 yards out and buried a 6 footer for par. It was a national championship winning putt.

Tai captured the 2024 NCAA Men’s Golf individual title Monday at Omni La Costa’s North Course, overcoming a three-shot deficit and a string of late mistakes to beat numerous chasers, including 2022 individual champion Gordon Sargent and 2023 Phil Mickelson Award winner Ben James. With the win, Tai receives an exemption into the 2024 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and the 2025 Masters, given he remains an amateur.

“All of the guys on the team have really helped me a lot the past two-and-a-half years,” Tai said. “I’m just so thankful for all of the relationships I have been able to make.”

Tai is the fourth NCAA individual champion in Georgia Tech history, joining Watts Gunn (1927), Charlie Yates (1934) and Troy Matteson (2002).

He said he didn’t know where he stood on the leaderboard until he finished for the day. His triple on the eighth hole dropped the Yellow Jackets from 22 over to 25 over and out of the top eight cutoff for Tuesday’s match play. However, his clutch par save on the last helped Georgia Tech finish one shot in front of Oklahoma to earn the last spot in the quarterfinals. Tai finished at 3-under 285, and he also had the lowest round of the week, a 5-under 67 on Friday.

Last year, the Yellow Jackets finished runner-up to Florida in the national championship match. This year, they will face Illinois, which won the stroke-play portion by 16 shots to earn the top seed.

Tai was bogey free through 16 holes and had a two-shot lead when he stepped on the tee of the difficult eighth hole. At one point earlier in the day, scoring had him at 7 under for the tournament, but an error was later corrected bringing him to 6 under.

“I tried to tell him to not look at it because it doesn’t matter,” Heppler said. “Control what you can control, everything is right in front of you.”

Tai finished on the front nine, more than a mile from the clubhouse, while Sargent and James wrapped up their rounds on the 18th. The duo each had birdie looks on the closing par-5 hole to force a playoff, with James missing his putt low while Sargent lipped out his attempt.

“It was a good shot, obviously a touch too firm and too right,” Sargent said. “It almost snuck in right at the end. I thought it was in for a while.”

James and Sargent finished at 2 under in a tie for second along with four others, including Auburn freshman Jackson Koivun and Florida State junior Luke Clanton.

A reminder: James received a one-stroke penalty for slow play in the first round.

Tai’s win is fitting on Memorial Day, as before he started his college career, he served his mandatory two-year military service in Singapore, his home country.

He also was a huge part in the Yellow Jackets making match play, even down World No. 1 Christo Lamprecht, who hasn’t played since Friday because of a back injury. Come Tuesday, it’s a clean slate for Georgia Tech.

“It’s the greatest day in golf,” Heppler said. “The intensity of winning and losing starts on the first hole.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek